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This article is about returning purchased goods to retailers. For other uses, see Returning (disambiguation).
The return policy posted at a Target store

In retail, returning is the process of a customer taking previously purchased merchandise back to the retailer, and in turn, receiving a cash refund, exchange for another item (identical or different), or a store credit. Many retailers will accept returns provided that the customer has a receipt as a proof of purchase, and that certain other conditions, which depend on the retailer's policies, are met. These may include the merchandise being in a certain condition (possibly being resellable), no more than a certain amount of time having passed since the purchase, or that identification be provided. In some cases, only exchanges or store credit are offered.[1] Some retailers charge a restocking fee for returned merchandise.[1]

While retailers are not usually required to accept returns, laws in many places require retailers to post their return policy in a place where it would be visible to the customer prior to purchase.[2]

In certain countries, such as Australia, consumer rights dictate that under certain situations consumers have a right to demand a refund.[3] These situations include sales that relied on misleading claims, defective goods, and undisclosed conditions of sale.

There are various reasons why customers may wish to return merchandise. These include a change of one's mind, defectiveness of the merchandise, personal dissatisfaction, or a mistaken purchase of the wrong product. For clothing, it may be a lack of a correct fit. Sometimes, there may be a manufacturer's recall in which the manufacturer has requested the merchandise be brought back to the store. Also, gift receipts are offered sometimes when an item is purchased for another person, and the recipient can exchange this item for another item of comparable value or store credit.[4]


Fraudulent returns[edit]

Main article: Return fraud

In the United States, various abuses using the return process cost retailers more than $9 billion annually.[5]

One common practice is the use of the system in order to use it to "borrow" the merchandise at no charge. The customer who engages in this practice purchases the item for temporary use, then returns it when finished. Examples include an article of clothing worn for a single occasion, or a book that is returned after it has been read.

Another problem is when customers legitimately purchase an item, then re-enter the store with the receipt, take an identical item off the shelf, and approach the customer service desk requesting a refund. In the process, they essentially receive the item for free.

Others have been reported to print fake receipts which they use to return shoplifted merchandise for a cash refund.

Denying Returns[edit]

Some retailers have turned to a practice in which customers who return or exchange items excessively (beyond the guidelines set by a retailer) may be prevented from making a return or exchange with that particular company.

An agency called The Retail Equation (formerly The Return Exchange) collects data from participating retailers via a swipe of a driver's license. The information found on the license is collected into a database, and other stores operated by that particular retail company can use this information to deny a return. This system can be used to prevent various problems, such as return fraud.[4][5] These controversial practices of collecting information have been addressed privacy rights advocates and spurned a movement for boycotting chains that collect consumers private information and allow a third party sources to use it. The request of presenting a form of identification for returning products and collecting the information has stirred controversy especially if the customer that purchased the product was a minor ( under the age of 18). Immigrant rights groups have voiced serious concern over the practice since most illegal immigrants don't have a state ID or a drivers license and this practice could potentially be used to discriminate against them.


Legislation exists in various parts of the world giving consumers the right to return goods in as-supplied condition for a full refund, within a set period of time, known as a cooling-off period (q.v.). Sometimes this legislation only applies to distance sales such as online or mail order, or to specific types of goods or services.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Associated Press, "Retailers cracking down on return fraud: Avoid problems returning unwanted gifts during holiday season," MSNBC (Dec . 6, 2006).
  2. ^ ConsumerAffairs (2004-12-24). "After-Christmas Return Policies Get Stricter". Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  3. ^ "Consumer guarantees - a guide for consumers" (PDF). 2010-12-17. Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  4. ^ a b "Will I Be Able to Return That Unwanted Holiday Gift? The Retail Equation (formerly The Return Exchange) | Privacy Rights Clearinghouse". 2008-12-12. Retrieved 2012-11-03. 
  5. ^ a b Michelle Singletary, "Return Fraud Earns Retailers' Wrath," The Washington Post (December 10, 2006): F01.